Unseeded Czech Barbora Krejcikova sealed her rapid rise in the singles game by claiming a first Grand Slam title in an emotional French Open win.
Krejcikova beat Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1 2-6 6-4 in only her fifth major singles draw appearance.
The former doubles world number one paid tribute to mentor Jana Novotna, who died in 2017 at the age of 49, saying she owed her success to her.
“She is looking after me from up there,” said 25-year-old Krejcikova.
Krejcikova has often spoken about the impact of former Wimbledon champion Novotna, who died from ovarian cancer.
When she was 18 and an aspiring player, Krejcikova’s parents took her to Novotna’s house and asked the former world number two for some advice.
Novotna saw something special and became her coach, mentor and friend until she died.
“I was going through a really hard time when Jana passed away, I was with her most of the time. Her last words were pretty much ‘just enjoy it and try to win a Grand Slam’,” Krejcikova said.
Pointing to the sky, she added: “I know from somewhere she is looking after me and all that happened in the last two weeks is pretty much because she is looking after me.
“It is amazing I had the chance to meet her and she was an inspiration. I hope she is really happy and I am extremely happy.”
‘A lot of things are going to change’
On Sunday, Krejcikova has the chance to win the doubles when she plays in the final alongside fellow Czech Katerina Siniakova.
No player has won both the women’s singles and doubles titles at Roland Garros since France’s Mary Pierce in 2000.
Krejcikova sealed the first half of what could be a rare double when she served out victory with her fourth match point.
“I’m super happy I was able to enjoy it. I’m just really happy,” said world number 33 Krejcikova, who has also won two Grand Slams women’s doubles titles and three mixed doubles titles.
“It is hard to put into words because I cannot believe what just happened. I cannot believe I actually won a Grand Slam.”
Leading up to the final, Krejcikova was keen to avoid being labelled a ‘doubles specialist’ and victory against 31st seed Pavlyuchenkova ensured that will never be the case.
Krejcikova – who counts sewing and doing the gardening with her parents among her hobbies – understands there will be more focus on her now, but says the triumph will not change her outlook on her life and career.
“I’m planning to work hard again. This is such a big motivation to just work hard, enjoy this journey, enjoy tennis and everything,” said Krejcikova.
“I guess a lot of things are going to change. For me, I’m just going to still be the little girl from my little city [Ivancice, near Brno], that used to start on the tennis wall. Nothing’s going to change.”
American great Billie Jean King, the 12-time Grand Slam singles champion, was among those to offer her congratulations. So too was Poland’s Iga Swiatek, who won last year’s title – and faces Krejcikova in the doubles final.
Pavlyuchenkova unable to add senior title to junior success
For the sixth successive year in Paris, there was guaranteed to be a first-time Grand Slam champion crowned in the women’s singles final.
Very few – if anyone – would have predicted before the tournament that Krejcikova and Pavlyuchenkova would be the ones contesting it.
That was despite Krejcikova warming up by winning the Strasbourg title and 29-year-old Pavlyuchenkova having reached the Madrid semi-finals last month.
The ability to be mentally strong and bounce back from difficult moments had characterised Krejcikova’s run to the final, notably in her semi-final win over Greece’s Maria Sakkari.
First she had to save a match point in the deciding set, then was wrongly denied victory by the incorrect overruling of a line call, before composing herself to take her fifth match point moments later.
After two double faults led to her being broken in the first game of the final, Krejcikova responded by rattling off the next six games in just 21 minutes.
The second set was a complete contrast.
Pavyluchenkova, a bigger hitter than the more varied Krejcikova, loosened up and grew in confidence as she started landing more returns on the way to a 5-1 lead.
The Russian lost one of the breaks in the seventh game and then needed a seven-minute medical time-out, where she ate a bag of sweets while receiving treatment, for a thigh injury.
Despite the concerns, she broke in the next game to claim the second set and ensure a decider would determine who won the title.
Breaks of serve were exchanged for 2-2 before Krejcikova regained the initiative with a wonderful returning game where she broke to love.
Pavlyuchenkova, who won two Grand Slam junior titles as a teenager, saved two championship points at 5-3 but could not prevent Krejcikova clinching the title in the next game.
French pair win men’s doubles title
In the day’s other final at Roland Garros, Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut became the first French pair to win their home Grand Slam twice.
They beat Kazakhs Alexander Bublik and Andrey Golubev 4-6 7-6 (7-1) 6-4 after recovering from a shaky start.
It is their fifth Grand Slam title after their 2018 French Open triumph and titles at the 2015 US Open, Wimbledon in 2016 and the 2019 Australian Open.